Ready for an adventure on the Los Angeles Metro? Let's get started with the Red Line. The subway route opened in 1993 and eventually grew to connect downtown to the San Fernando with stops from Hollywood to Westlake in between. It is essentially, the core of Metro's rail system, as it connects to the Orange, Purple, Gold, Blue and Expo lines. It's stops include major attractions, including Universal Studios and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as less renowned local hubs. You'll find both in this list.
If you're traveling by Metro for fun, rather than work, avoid rush hour. The cars will be packed and you will grow increasingly frustrated with people who think their shopping bag or backpack deserves its own seat. If you're traveling for work, go ahead and join the 5 p.m. crowd; The Red Line still beats trying to get in and out of downtown by car. Also, if you're heading here at night, keep track of the last train home. Metro rail lines, unfortunately, do not run 24 hours.
1. North Hollywood
The North Hollywood end of the Red Line can be misleading. It's a bustling station connecting Valley residents and visitors with the Orange Line, multiple busses and their cars. It's also a little boring, surrounded by bland residential buildings, a golf store and a car dealer. Start walking, though, and you'll find one of Los Angeles' more genuinely interesting neighborhoods.
If you hang a right on Burbank, you won't miss California Institute of Abnormalarts; there's a big clown painted on the front gate, plus an arched Chinatown sign and lanterns peeking up from behind the wall. I DJed here once and it's a gig that stood out more for the strangeness of the setting than anything else. The stage looks as though it came out of an old-fashioned circus sideshow. The labyrinthian space unfolds like a cross between a haunted house and a curiosities exhibition. Some of the surprises tucked inside the venue might make you jump.
If you choose to continue walking up Lankershim past Burbank, there are some pleasantly surprising shops, including a number of antique shops with stock spilling out onto the sidewalk. That's certainly the case for Eclectica, where racks of clothing popped out of a jumble of stuff on a recent Saturday afternoon.
The loveliest spot on Lankershim, though, is the Green Man. I felt like I had stumbled upon a gateway to a magical forest when I pulled open the heavy, wooden door and carefully stepped inside the small shop. The scent of the store is woodsy, almost overwhelming. Painted trees line a wall, leaves hang from above and the face of The Green Man appears repeatedly. It's filled with incense, oils, a wide assortment of crystals, books on witchcraft and tarot and tools for rituals. The Green Man also offers classes like “Witchcraft for Beginners,” occasional public rituals and other events.
California Institute of Abnormalarts, 11334 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 221-8065, facebook.com/ciabnormalarts | Eclectica, 5663 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (323) 333-8421, facebook.com/eclectica | The Green Man, 5712 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 985-2010, thegreenmanstore.com.
2. Universal City/Studio City
The other Valley stop on the Red Line, Universal City/Studio City, is particularly useful. This is where you can easily hop on a bus headed across Ventura Boulevard. It's also where you can catch a shuttle to the Hollywood Bowl. (The shuttle is free, too, if you show your TAP card.) The main reason you'll see people exit the subway here, though, is Universal Studios and City Walk. The Red Line is a very convenient way to visit the amusement park; there's no real reason to drive unless you're planning to stay so late you'll miss the last train.
The lesser known attraction here is Campo de Cahuenga. Sure, the Metro recording announces it every time the train approaches the spot, but the destination is obscured by neighborhood construction. This is the spot where the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed in 1847, helping to bring about the end of the Mexican-American War. The tile-roofed building that stands here today isn't the real thing, rather, it's replica of the building that originally stood on the grounds. I stopped by on the fourth Saturday of the month not realizing that it's open for tours on the first and third Saturdays. Guess I'll be heading back another weekend.
Campo de Cahuenga, 3919 Lankershim Blvd., Studio City. campodecahuenga.com.
This station is a portal to hell. Take the escalator above ground and you're immediately greeted by a thick crowd of tourists, costumed characters and dudes trying to shove CDs into your hand. Maybe the guy dressed as Jesus will bust out a Sublime cover too.
Hollywood and Highland is an awful, ugly place filled with large crowds and tuneless sounds that could drive you to hate Los Angeles. If, however, you make you can find the strength to squeeze your way through the camera-flashing tourists, you will find Muji, a little piece of heaven that's just a couple blocks away. Muji is the polar opposite of the other shops that line Hollywood Boulevard. The Japanese, minimalist lifestyle store is tucked into the L.A. Fitness shopping center, hidden from the attention of people who'd rather hit up the souvenir shop with the “Cali Swag” section. Walking into the store will immediately soothe your nerves. The music is calm. The air is heavily fragranced with essential oils wafting from Muji's Ultrasonic Aroma Diffuser.
Muji emphasizes simplicity. The selection of clothing consists largely of closet staples like striped shirts and cozy sweaters. Home items, which occupy more real estate, include streamlined organizational racks and boxes along with plain and pretty kitchen and bathroom accessories. Simplicity isn't cheap here, but the sales tend to be pretty good.
Muji, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 785-2013, muji.com/us.
The Hollywood/Vine Metro stop is a destination in itself. It's tiled with the art of Magu, the late L.A. artist who was affiliated with Chicano art collective Los Four. The works are dated between 1997 and 1998 and humorously depict both Hollywood Boulevard's star-studded sidewalk and the work that went into building up this neighborhood. (One piece pays tribute to the workers who built the station.) Alas, people barely seem to notice this cool, public art gallery as they race through the station toting Amoeba and Trader Joe's bags.
When you venture outside the Metro station, take a walk to the Record Parlour. This store overflows with vinyl. In fact, it's so fully stocked that once in a while it hosts major blowout sales. In addition to the usual crates of rock and jazz, the store also has a “Viva Las Vegas” category and a nice, little Exotica section. (Fittingly, if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard, you'll pass Les Baxter's star on the way here.) The prices are relatively reasonable for an L.A. vinyl shop. While some records are on the high end, you can still find plenty of good additions to your collection for under $10.
The Record Parlour, 6408 Selma Ave., Hollywood. (323) 464-7757, therecordparlour.com.
The hunger pangs will hit nearly as soon as you leave the Hollywood/Western station. Located in Thai Town, this Metro stop is adjacent to blocks of tempting eateries.
When the cravings reach their peak and you don't have time to sit down for a full meal, head over Bhan Kanom Thai. The baker is located in a mini mall, semi-obscured from street view, and once you enter, you won't want to leave without a bag full of goodies. The front of the shop is filled with the usual packaged snacks and candies that you can find at Asian groceries, including Pocky and Kit-Kats in fun flavors. Venture further back into the bakery for Thai specialties. I couldn't resist a bag of Pui Fai, fluffy cupcake-sized treats that come in soft shades of green, yellow and pink. They're prettier than a box of macarons and their jasmine scent is divine.
Bhan Kanom Thai, 5271 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz. bhankanomthai.com.
Art, architecture and the outdoors collide at Barnsdall Park, a short (but steep) walk from the Vermont/Sunset station. The site of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, this park came as a gift from heiress/arts patron Aline Barnsdall back in the 1920s with the stipulation that it remain a public space. The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery has hosted some fine shows over the years, including a 2015 career retrospective for famed L.A. artist Robert Williams. There is also a theater on site and art classes available for both kids and adults.
If you want to add a picnic to your day, there's a Jons International Marketplace on Vermont en route from the Metro station to Barnsdall Park. Stop here to pick up deli meats and cheeses, some lavash, olives and other easy-to-pack lunch items.
4800 Hollywood Blvd., East Hollywood. (323) 644-6275, barnsdall.org | Jons International Marketplace, 1601 N. Vermont Ave., East Hollywood. jonsmarketplace.com.
7. Vermont/Santa Monica
It may seem odd that the Cahuenga Branch Library is located on Santa Monica Boulevard, but like the street that sits miles away from here, it's named for the Native American tribe that resided in the area. The library dates back to 1916 and was built thanks to a grant from Andrew Carnegie. The city once had six Carnegie libraries, but the Cahuenga Branch is one of only three that remain.
Sturdy and ornate in a way that feels at odds with the L.A. of today, the Cahuenga Branch Library is a gorgeous, quiet place to spend an afternoon reading. The remnants of the old city are made modern with murals inside the building and a collection that reflects local demographics; there's even a selection of books written in Armenian. Like other LAPL outposts, this library also hosts a number of community events, among them chess and quilting clubs.
Cahuenga Branch Library, 4591 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood. (323) 664-6418, lapl.org/branches/cahuenga.
When you're riding the Metro and need a fast-food fix, stop at Vermont/Beverly and visit Jollibee. It's a fast-food chain from the Philippines that features spam sandwiches, burgers served on top of french fries and buckets of fried chicken. You can get your chicken with a side of spaghetti, but I opted for the mashed potatoes, which, by the way, are rich and delicious.
You might recognize the Halo-Halo, a colorful mix of sweets mixed into shaved ice, from Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. I haven't tried that, mostly because I figured it would melt before I got home. I did, however, try the Peach Mango Pie, which is crispier and juicier than anything you'll find in the Hostess aisle. You have to try it.
Jollibee, 3821 Beverly Blvd., East Hollywood. (323) 906-8617.
There are some new video games and pinball machines at Shatto 39 Lanes, but the rest of this divey entertainment center is still very tied to the mid-20th century. From the martini glass on the facade of the building to the barstools decked out in Brady Bunch colors, it looks like the inspiration for a Shag painting.
Shatto 39 Lanes is open late, until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Bowling prices range from $4 to $7, per person/game, while time in the billiards hall ranges from $10-$14 per hour. I was a little put off by having to go through a security check to get inside on a Sunday afternoon, but otherwise the vibe was pretty relaxed during the day. There definitely seems to be more action here at night.
Shatto 39 Lanes, 3255 W. Fourth St., Koreatown. (213) 385-9475, shatto39lanes.com.
10. Westlake/MacArthur Park
This entry could be limited to one word: Langer's. With nearly 70 years of history under its belt, this deli is an L.A. institution. Their signature sandwich is the Number 19, a sweet-and-savory, hot-and-cold mix of pastrami and swiss cheese topped with cole slaw and Russian dressing and stuffed between slices of rye bread. It's fantastic. It's also quite large. You could split it with a pal and still feel full when you're done.
The take-out counter can be fast, even when the restaurant is weekend packed. If you want your sandwich to go, call in the order when you're fairly close to the station.
Langer's, 704 S. Alvarado St., Westlake. (213) 483-8050, langersdeli.com.
11. Seventh Street/Metro Center
The Seventh Street/Metro Center station sits between Figueroa and Hope in what is essentially the heart of downtown. The station itself is a stop for the Red, Purple, Blue and Expo lines and there are a slew of bus connections in the area. For downtown residents, this is the stop where you'll exit to do basic shopping at Walgreen's or Target City. It's also a transfer point for anyone heading to the Staples Center or the USC area. In other words, this station is typically very busy, more so when there's a sports or music event going on in the area.
There are a number of bars in the area. Indeed, you could probably pull together a crawl just with the spots surrounding this station. Head to the rooftop of the Standard Hotel during the summer, even if pool parties aren't your thing, because the view of the surrounding skyscrapers is fantastic. If you enjoy long walks, head up to Broadway and visit the Ace Hotel's rooftop bar for another dazzling look at the downtown skyline.
The Standard Hotel, 550 S. Flower, downtown; (213) 892-8080, standardhotels.com | Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway, downtown, (213) 623-3233, acehotel.com/losangeles.
12. Pershing Square
Want your friends to think you read more than clickbait? The second-level Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore is designed for super-nerd selfies. Of course, you shouldn't be a poseur. Grab a book or two or 10 while you're here. The store has an immense selection of books, both new and old, common and rare. The comic book section, Dungeon Dungeon, is maintained by the crew from Silver Lake's Secret Headquarters. There's also a large record section in the store, although some of their prices might make your head spin.
While you're in the neighborhood, walk over to the Bradbury Building on Broadway and catch a glimpse of the 19th century building famous for its appearance in Blade Runner's dystopian future. As many times as this historic building has appeared on the big screen, nothing beats seeing that staircase up close.
The Last Bookstore, 453 S. Spring Street, downtown; (213) 488-0599, lastbookstorela.com | Bradbury Building, 304 S. Broadway, downtown; (213) 626-1893.
13. Civic Center/Grand Park
There are points of interest aplenty near the Civic Center/Grand Park station, chief among them Disney Concert Hall. Tucked into a street-level corner of that complex is REDCAT.
An acronym for the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, REDCAT focuses on cutting-edge art and performance projects. This is the kind of space where programming runs the gamut from experimental theater to indie film and where you can catch an author speak one night and listen to a musical performance the next.
Another thing to note about this station is that it isn't that far from Little Tokyo. Since that neighborhood's Gold Line station is currently closed due to construction, you might want to walk from Civic Center/Grand Park to get your post-show ramen fix.
REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., downtown; (213) 237-2800, redcat.org.
14. Union Station
If you've somehow managed to live in Los Angeles without visiting El Pueblo Historical Monument and Olvera Street, you need to fix that now. Take the Red Line to Union Station and cross Alameda and you've reached the historic origins of the city. If you're interested in tours, contact Las Angelitas del Pueblo and you can schedule one for free. Otherwise, you can explore the shopping center and adjacent park on your own.
The best time to visit the neighborhood is in December, when holiday festivities are in full effect. The Virgen de Guadalupe Celebration is a beautiful event mixing solemn devotion and celebration with candles and flowers. There are events throughout the year here, from Los Tres Reyes to Las Posadas. Even when there isn't a holiday, there's still a lot of activity in the area. Stop by to find goods from local merchants and craftspeople and eat at one of the street's long-standing restaurants.
845 N. Alameda St., downtown; olvera-street.com, calleolvera.com.
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